The NHL Expansion will be arriving soon and the Vegas Golden Knights will have 30 players in their organization. A key component of any NHL team is how good they are at a center. It’s time to break down the best center options in expansion for the Vegas Golden Knights.
Best Center Options in Expansion for the Vegas Golden Knights
Columbus Blue Jackets
Because of the depth the Columbus Blue Jackets have, the current prime target from Columbus is William Karlsson. The most likely scenario is that Columbus will not need to protect David Clarkson either due to his long-term injury status or waiving his no-move clause. This will open up the seventh forward protection spot that will go to Alexander Wennberg.
Karlsson is 23 years of age, 6’1″, 188 lbs, and a second round pick in 2011. So far this year the Swedish center has four goals and nine points. Karlsson is a two-way forward and is also a very good skater. The young Swede is a very good player to start a franchise.
Detroit Red Wings
The Detroit Red Wings potentially will have a couple of centers exposed in expansion. Unless the Red Wings expose captain Henrik Zetterberg, Detroit will have both Darren Helm and Andreas Athanasiou available in expansion.
Zetterberg is 36 years old and is signed for four more years with an annual cap hit of $6.083 million. Could General Manager Ken Holland expose the Red Wings heart and soul player who has been in Detroit since 2002? Zetterberg does have 17 points so far this season, and compiled 50 points last year.
With Helm, Vegas would know what they are getting. The 29-year-old center is a smart two-way player, who can also play either wing. He is a terrific third-line player who is signed for the next four years ($3.85-million cap hit).
Athanasiou has considerable more upside than Helm. The 22-year-old is highly skilled, a gifted skater and can also play all three forward positions. The 6’2″, 192 lbs Canadian center has four goals so far this year, and lit the lamp nine times last year in 37 games.
Large scouting contingent from Las Vegas at Caps-Red Wings. Among them are David Conte, Mike Foligno and Jim McKenzie.
The Florida Panthers last forward protection spot will be between Jonathan Marchessault and Colton Sceviour. Marchessault is the more skilled player of the two although he is only 5’9″. The under-sized center is off to a terrific start with 10 goals and 19 points. The 6’0″ Sceviour can also contribute offensively, as he has 5 goals and 9 points, but is more of a two-way, 200-foot player.
While Marchessault and Sceviour are signed through next season each with less than $1-million cap hit, both will hit the unrestricted free agent market after next season.
Because in all likelihood the Nashville Predators will protect four defensemen, that will leave 25-year-old center, Calle Jarnkrok exposed in expansion. The 2010 second-round pick can play all three forward positions and is a solid player. Jarnkrok is also signed for the next five years with just a $2-million cap hit. While Jarnkrok helps a hockey team, there isn’t much upside.
New York Islanders
Like the Predators, the New York Islanders will most likely protect four defensemen. General Manager Garth Snow will have to choose who to protect for his last expansion spot between Casey Cizikas and Ryan Strome.
Cizikas is a player who never stops and does many things to help a hockey team. The 25-year-old center is strong defensively, on faceoffs, plays with physicality and grit and is a strong penalty killer. Cizikas chips in with scoring but is not a goal scorer. He is locked up for another four years with an annual cap hit of $3.35 million.
Strome, the 23-year-old center is a former fifth overall pick in 2011. Strome has a lot of skill but has been struggling since last season. In his first full season two years ago Strome looked he was going to put up strong numbers on a yearly basis, as he had 17 goals, 51 points and led New York with a plus-23.
Since then it’s been a big struggle for the oldest of the Strome brothers. He had 28 points last year and only has two goals and six points this season. If Snow decides to leave Strome exposed in expansion that will be a damning statement for the youngster.
Tampa Bay Lightning
The Tampa Bay Lightning are so loaded at the forward position that, in all probability, they will expose both center Vladislav Namestnikov and winger Alex Killorn. Namestnikov plays a two-way game, provides secondary scoring and makes everyone around him better. At just 23 years of age, it would seem like a no-brainer selection for Vegas General Manager George McPhee. The question is, would McPhee prefer the 27-year-old Killorn? He signed a 7-year extension this past summer.
Odds are Vegas will select a young forward from the Winnipeg Jets. The question is will it be center Andrew Copp or winger Joel Armia? Winnipeg will have to decide which youngster to protect for the last forward expansion spot.
Copp is a big center at 6’1″ and 206 lbs. At just 22, Copp is strong defensively, has a ton of grit, as well as leadership intangibles. However, Copp may not be much of a scorer, as he just scored seven goals in 77 games last year, and has only hit the twine twice this year. Armia, the 16th overall pick in 2011, offers much more potential in terms of being a scoring forward.
There are going to be at least a half dozen solid choices at center in expansion for the Vegas Golden Knights.